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Populist Labor Party routs traditional parties

  • 2004-06-17
  • By Milda Seputyte
VILNIUS - In line with the general pattern of voter discontent throughout the continent, Lithuanians demonstrated their mistrust of the ruling government and handed a majority of votes to oppositionist parties. What's more, by throwing their support behind an upstart party, voters seemed to suggest that they wanted to see new faces represent them in Europe.

As predicted by opinion polls, the populist Labor Party demolished the competition, garnering two times more votes than the rival and second-place Social Democratic Party, the largest party in the Seimas (Lithuania's parliament).
Having received 30.4 percent of the vote, the Labor Party is expecting to receive five out of Lithuania's 13 mandates in the European Parliament.
The Social Democrats, with 14.4 percent support, will have two seats, as will the main opposition parties, Homeland Union and the Liberal Centrists.
The Labor Party, founded less than a year ago, won in almost every municipality except in four cities, where other contenders managed a strong showing.
"This was the voters' revenge on the Social Democrats for Rolandas Paksas," said party member Arunas Degutis.
Paksas was removed from the presidency in April following an impeachment vote in the Seimas. The Labor Party, which was founded by businessman Victor Uspaskich, Parliament's richest member, had consistently supported Paksas throughout the six-month impeachment ordeal.
Labor Party's smashing success was even more stunning considering the party's leadership had refused to announce their fraction affiliation on the eve of the election. It was only after the victory on election night that party member Degutis announced that Labor Party intended to join the European Socialist Party.
"Our orientation is clearly center-left. Most likely we are going to join the European Socialist fraction in European Parliament," said Degutis, who was listed as the party's second candidate.
In his opinion, the EP election was a precursor for the upcoming election to the Seimas this autumn.
According to Raimundas Lopata, a political analyst and director at the Institute of International Relations and Political Science at Vilnius University, the election results seem paradoxical since Lithuania's political dynamic from now on will strongly depend on Uspaskich.
"The further determination of Uspaskich will influence the presidential election as well as upcoming parliamentary election," said Lopata.
According to political analyst Alvidas Lukosaitis, the dramatic rise of nontraditional parties demonstrates how inclined Lithuanian voters are to experiment and to search in blind.
"It is difficult to explain the reasons of this acceleration of the Labor Party. It seems as if people are avenging the traditional parties and the ones in power, but they hardly understand what are the grounds of their revenge," said Lukosaitis.
Experts said that voting for a party with only a few well-known politicians was difficult to comprehend.
"Could the people that voted for the Labor Party name at least three members of the party? And could they name more than two candidates to the EP from the party list?" Lukosaitis asked rhetorically.
The analyst said he could imagine that people were looking for comfort and therefore gave their votes to the Labor Party, but he could not predict how the search for solace might affect the representation of Lithuania in the European Parliament.
The victorious results were saluted with ovations at the Labor Party headquarters. While giving a toast, Uspaskich said that events confirmed that the party had chosen the right strategy in the election.
"We chose to work with the structures of the party and did not pay attention to all the 'barking,'" said Uspaskich, who did not elaborate what he meant.
The millionaire also stressed that the party "does not play with the emotions of the voters," and this was why they had decided to disregard candidates' ratings from the election bulletins and to send the people from the top of the list to the EP.
Central Electoral Committee Chairman Zenonas Vaigauskas strongly criticized the intentions of the party leader and explained that similar actions would be impossible due to legal regulations.